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Good Luck to You, Leo Grande review – Emma Thompson on top form in refreshing sex dramedy

The beloved British actor finds a perfect match in Daryl McCormack with this original romance about a rendezvous in a hotel room

There are plenty of films about sexual awakenings and sexual empowerment, but Good Luck to You, Leo Grande brings some welcome originality to the table with its story of an older woman’s discreet afternoon of sex in a Norwich hotel room. Looking for an encounter that will make up for years of vanilla intercourse, widowed ex-teacher Nancy (Emma Thompson) proclaims “there are nuns out there with more sexual experience” as she clutches a list of sexual exploits she's eager to check off, though her main goal is to rectify the fact she has never orgasmed.

To help her fulfil these listed ambitions is the eponymous Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), a young and polite sex worker who plays therapist to Nancy’s woes, McCormack impressively able to keep up with Thompson’s pace despite playing a character somewhat on the underwritten side. While Nancy is fumbling all over the place, Leo remains a charismatic, steady presence, slowly easing his client into chasing those long sought-after desires. As bittersweet dialogue underlines every interaction between the pair, Nancy gradually sheds her hampering inhibitions.

The notion of seeking out sexual pleasure as something shameful makes for meaty subject matter in Katy Brand's layered script, while director Sophie Hyde, whose previous millennial drama Animals was infused with a similarly unflinchingly raw depiction of women reaching certain milestones in life, handles the intimate nature of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande with real assurance.

Taking place almost entirely inside a single hotel room kitted out with the recognisably generic and mundane greys and beiges, Nancy and Leo remain the sole focus of the piece as they circle the bed, each waiting for the other to make the first move. But despite the single setting, the film never feels constrained or claustrophobic. Against the blandness of these humdrum visuals, these performances absolutely pop.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande required an actor of an exquisite calibre to pull off the densely compact lead role and the incomparable Thompson proves the perfect person for the job. She brings a real sensitivity to Nancy, who slowly succumbs to the irresistible itch of sexual satisfaction, but whose vulnerability is contrasted interestingly with her tendency to make unlikeable comments, calling her students “sluts” and suggesting that Leo’s generation “needs a war.” Yet ultimately, it's the pleasure of womanhood that is placed front and centre in what amounts to a very enjoyable and refreshing blend of comedy and drama.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival London 2022. It will be released in UK cinemas on 17 June.

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